NGOs trying to build shelter area for migrants who test positive for coronavirus in Reynosa, Mexico

Border Report

City cut off propane tanks preventing migrants from cooking in downtown plaza

Migrants who were sent back to Mexico under Title 42 wait in line for food and supplies in a camp across the US-Mexico border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico on July 10, 2021. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Several faith-based churches and non-governmental organizations are trying to build a migrant shelter to house asylum-seekers who test positive for the coronavirus in the border city of Reynosa, Mexico, Border Report has learned.

The facility would hold 400 asylum-seeking migrants who are sick with COVID-19 and would get them off a filthy downtown plaza in Reynosa that now has over 5,000 people crammed into a small space, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers.

Thousands of migrants live south of the Rio Grande, across from the South Texas town of McAllen, because of Title 42 restrictions that the Trump administration put in place in March 2020 to prevent asylum-seekers from entering the United States to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Medical workers with the NGO Global Response Management would help oversee patient care and help advise the facility, Andrea Leiner, GRM director of strategic plans, told Border Report on Monday.

Doctors Without Borders as well as a nurse from the nearby migrant shelter of Senda de Vida also will rotate medical personnel into the facility, once it is open, Rangel-Samponaro said.

The nonprofit Angry Tias & Abuelas also will help with volunteers and staffing, the organization’s Cindy Candia told Border Report.

“We will be able to hold 400 COVID-positive asylum-seekers at one time. This is going to be a team effort,” Rangel-Samponaro said via phone Monday from Reynosa.

Photos taken on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, show workers charting out plans to construct a 400-bed facility on the grounds of the Ciudad de Refuio (City of Refuge) Church in Reynosa, Mexico, to house COVID-positive asylum seekers. (Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers)

The facility is planned to be built on the property of Ciudad de Refugio (City of Refuge) Church in Reynosa at a cost of $35,000. The church is allowing a section of its land to be used, Rangel-Samponaro said. They are in the process of building two tall chain link fences spaced apart to prevent passage from the migrant shelter area to the church. They are also building showers, bathrooms, a kitchen, hand-washing stations, adding water tanks, and plan to put in a roof.

“We’re building a fence to separate the COVID-positive asylum-seekers from churchgoers,” she said. “We’re building a high fence that will be covered so one can’t see the other and everybody can stay safely separated. There will be no chance of anyone coming to church and getting COVID-19.”

The migrants would live in new tents provided for them and be properly spaced and cared for to help them recover from COVID-19, she said.

Rangel-Samponaro, whose group has been assisting asylum-seekers in Reynosa since February, also was involved in plans to expand the Senda de Vida migrant shelter to add space for 1,000 more migrants to get them off the crowded plaza area. But the Reynosa city government halted saying it was not given permission to build on a flood plain. The mayor announced that shelter would be torn down but a federal judge intervened and halted the demolition.

Volunteers are seen on June 28, 2021, putting up new tents at the Senda de Vida migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico. The city halted expansion of the facility, however. (Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers)

The Senda de Vida shelter was never intended to house sick migrants. And the Reynosa Health Department will be strictly overseeing operations at the City of Refuge Church, she said.

They are soliciting donations for the project, which is costly. Donations can be made at the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers’ website.

And Rangel-Samponaro said their funding is currently even more scarce after Reynosa officials on Thursday night took out five propane tanks that were located in the downtown plaza camp. Those tanks allowed migrants to cook for themselves, but city officials said it was a safety hazard, she said. Now the migrants are dependent upon nonprofits, churches and NGOs to bring them all their meals.

Originally city officials said they were going to remove the electricity and refrigerators to the compound, but ended up leaving that. So migrants can eat cold foods and properly store food products.

But The Monitor newspaper reported that parents of young children relied on the propane tanks to sanitize water for baby formula, which they need at all hours, and now they will not have that ability to prepare bottles for their very young.

“Things have changed because there has been no choice since they can’t cook anymore. It’s putting a bigger strain on our food resources definitely with them taking out the burners so people can’t cook for themselves. So this is putting a strain on everybody,” Rangel-Samponaro said.

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